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Augustus Caesar: The First Roman Emperor
First published April 19, 2010
at Hubpages.com

          My previous articles set the stage for a look at individual emperors of the Ancient Roman Empire, and the coins of significance regarding that emperor.
          Augustus Caesar was the first emperor of Rome.  Many of the coins issued in Rome and throughout the Roman Empire during his reign are common, and easily obtained.  I will give a short rundown on young Octavian becoming Emperor Augustus, and then look at a few coins.
          Augustus Caesar (Gaius Octavius Thurinus) was born in Rome on September 23, 63 BC.  He was raised in a blessed environment.  He received the best Roman life had to offer, and was well equipped to face the challenge of dealing with experienced soldiers and statesmen such as Brutus, Cassius, and, above all others, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony).
          On March 15, 44 BC, Octavian’s adoptive uncle, Julius Caesar, was murdered.  Octavian was 18 years-old, and living in Apollonia (Albania) with the army.  Hearing of his adoptive uncle’s death, he immediately returned to Rome, where Brutus, Cassius, and their allies were in control.
          Along with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, he formed the Second Triumvirate.  This was an uneasy alliance as Mark Antony was a very powerful and aggressive individual with a very well developed sense of entitlement.  He had served with Julius Caesar as friend and general for many years.  Lepidus, on the other hand, was a malleable individual who had prospered by skillfully using a mix of cunning and caution.  Octavian and Antony went after the assassins aggressively, and in 42 BC met and defeated Cassius and Brutus at Philippi in Macedonia.
          Following their defeat, Cassius and Brutus committed suicide. (The battle at Philippi is interesting and well documented. Cassius committed suicide because of a perceived loss rather than an actual loss.)  At this time, Octavian returned to Rome and Antony went to Egypt and took up with Cleopatra VII Philopator; the ex-lover of Julius Caesar and mother of Caesar's only biological son Caesarion.
          Antony and Octavian divided up the empire with Octavian taking the west, Antony the east, and Lepidus being given Africa.  Lepidus stood back and did not take part in the conflict brewing between Octavian and Antony.  At the harbor of Actium on the west coast of Greece, in 31 BC Octavian, with his closest friend and general, Marcus Aggripa, met Antony and won a decisive battle.
          Following this loss, Antony and Cleopatra fled to Egypt where they eventually committed suicide.  Shortly after their suicides, Octavian ordered the death of Caesarion.
          In 27 BC, Octavian dismantled his armies, and returned power to the Roman Senate.  A hand-picked and timid Roman Senate immediately voted him Consul, and named him Augustus (The revered one).  This was the start of the Imperial Roman Empire.
          Augustus ruled for 40 prosperous and fairly peaceful years.  He created the Praetorian Guard, who were charged with the protection of the Emperor's person.  He bragged that he found Rome brick and left it marble, and was loved, as all great people are loved, by those who gained from his efforts.
          He suffered some losses.  The most noteworthy occurred in 9 AD when Legion XVII, Legion XVIII, and Legion XIX, under the command of Publius Quintillius Varus, were slaughtered by Germanic tribes in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.  There were 15 to 20 thousand Roman soldiers killed, and the three legions were never reestablished.  Following this loss, a war continued for seven years establishing the Rhine as Rome’s northern boarder for the next four hundred years.
          Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus died on August 19, in the year 14 AD, the first emperor in a line of rulers that ended in the year 1453 AD with the death of Constantine XI.

(29/30mm 10.79grms)
AUGUSTUS. 27 BC-14 AD Æ As  Rome mint Struck 11-12 AD
Obv. IMP CAESAR DIVI F AVGVSTVS IMP XX, bare head of Augustus left
RIC 471; Sear 1689

          This coins is the size of a US half dollar.  I got if for $110 US because it has a hole just above the emperor’s head.  I bid on it because of that hole.  I thought it might go for a price I could afford, and I fantisized as to how many people before me might have worn this same coin near their beating hearts.
          When it arrived, I carefully placed a sterling silver wire bail through the hole, and hung it on a silver chain.  I wore it for a while, but stopped when I saw high spots showing polish due to the polishing effect of my half Sicilian, and half  Irish/English hairy chest.  However, my guilt over this microscopic deterioration was obscured by the pleasure of imaging about how many necks it might have hung from.  Thoughts of what that coin had been near during its 2,000 years.  While I wore it, it hung near shoes being tied, hands being washed, meals eaten, books read, bodies embraced and hovered over, sun shine, and moon glow.  I wore it for less than two years; imagine a thousand time that.  Two thousand years as an ornament might not be probable, but it is possible.  It was pleasant to ponder.
          I have wondered at what point in history the hole was placed in the coin.  I have seen three of this variety of coin with holes just above the emperor’s head.  Bronze coins had not been made for nearly a hundred years before Augustus reformed Roman coins and began issuing base metal coins again.  This is a bronze coin minted during 10 to 12 AD.  Could it have been a social ritual to wear this coin on a string or chain?  It was issued only two to four years before Augustus died.  Was it worn to remember Augustus?  Could wearing it have had meaning something like we use the crossed ribbon to remind us of the unfortunate among us, the mistreated, and lost.  Maybe it’s like wearing red on Friday to think of, and remember the troops.  Whatever the real story is, the fantasies are pleasant, and my coin, wore smooth over most of its surface, was most likely old and smooth when the hole was drilled.

(17/18mm 3.59grms)
A1 Augustus Denarius. Lyons mint, 2 BC - ca 13 AD
Gaius & Lucius standing front, each with a hand resting on a round shield, a spear, & in field above, a lituus right & simpulum left
BMC 533, RSC 43

          A great number of coins like this were made using silver (denarius) and gold ( aureus).  They were issued to celebrate the announcement of Gaius and Lucius Caesars becoming heirs to the imperial throne.  They died in 4 AD and 2 AD respectively.  Tiberius became the front runner at this point.  I can’t help but think about the BBC production of ‘I Claudius’.  Those two little boys running and playing as Livia looks on.  In ‘I Claudius’ Livia has these two boys killed.  She had many more killed; including Augustus himself.
          There have been two thousand years of wondering what Livia’s role actually was.  A wonderful BBC production makes great fuel to add to the flames.

(15/16mm 2.66grms)
A2 Augustus AE Quadrans. Struck 5 BC
Moneyers Apronius, Galus, Messalla, and Sisena.
Obverse: APRONIVS MESSALLA III VIR, altar GALVS Reverse: SISENNA A A A F F, legend around large S C
Cohen 352

          The quadrans was the smallest coin in Roman Empire.  It was their penny.  They are the size of a US dime, but as thick as four or five dimes.  Roman coins are thick.  The sestersius, 

By: Anthony Ballatore

Roman Emperors & their Coins

0) Ancient Roman Coins On Ebay

1) When, where & why were coins first made?

2) The Story of Romulus and Remus & The Birth of Rome

3) The Roman Republic

4) Julius Caesar and the Death of the Republic

5) Augustus Caesar: The First Roman Emperor

6) Tiberius Caesar: The First Julio-Claudian Heir

7) Caligula: The first really crazy Caesar

8) Claudius: A level headed Caesar?

9) Nero: The Last Julio-Claudian Heir

Websites worth knowing:

By far the single best location for identifying, evaluating, and touring ancient coins. This link will direct you to their seach engines. Enjoy.

Along with WildWinds, this is a site of the highest regard, accurate information, and ethical policies; 'AUTHENTICITY GUARANTEED FOR ETERNITY' says it all.

Frank S. Robinson is a unique individual. I have more respect for Mr. Robinson than any other coin dealer.  His book 'The Case for Rational Optimism' (2009) will most likely leave you with this same perspective. If his book doesn't, dealing with him will. He is often mistaken for Neil Armstrong. :-)

Harlan J. Berk, Ltd.
Located in Chicago, Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. is an excellent location for both common and rare coins; often of
museum quality.

Reid Goldsborough's web pages are well written, educational, the first site to read regarding counterfiet coins. This site is hosted for free by VCoins.

A commercial coin and information site established December 3, 1998.  Their code of ethics and years of operation speaks loudly.

Another commercial coin and information site.

One of our sites dedicated to pens, ink, quills, books, writing, reading, history, and anything else that envolves language, art, and ideas.

dupondius, and as have profiles of emperors in bas-relief.  This is my attraction to sestersii.  They are huge bronze sculptures centuries old, and they feel great ‘in hand’ as they say.

(19/20mm 4.92grms)
Augustus and Rhoemetalkes I, 11 B.C.-12 A.D. AE
Obverse: Bare bust of Augustus. Legend in Greek
Reverse: Bust of Rhoemetalkes I. Legend in Greek

          This is a common provincial bronze coin with the portrait of Augustus and Rhoemetalkes I  the king of Thrace.  Rhoemetalkes I was the only non-roman to appear on a coin with Augustus.  It was minted during 11 & 12 BC, and is about the size of a half dollar.  I find it interesting that both portraits resemble Augustus. This might have been a way to draw a flattering comparison as well as show respect.

(If you have more information on Rhoemetalkes I, II, and III, or would like to write an article on these three, please let me know.)

          A last point is about Roman coins from the Republic through the first three centuries AD: They are stamped in bas-relief; they would not stack well.  Here is an example of three coins that I hope will bring across the high relief of early imperial coins.  As always, ancient Roman coins have a wonderful heft in hand, and the raised sculptures are finely detailed.

The coins below are as follows:

(17mm 3.8grms)
193 - 211 AD
Septimius Severus, Quadrans,
Nikopolis ad Istrum mint.
(As the name states, a quadrans was worth a quarter of an as.)

(18mm 3.03grms)
Antoninus Pius, Denarius,
AD 147-148
(Equal to 10 as)

(26/27mm 9.77grms)
Trajan AE As, Rome
Struck AD 98-99
(Equal to four quadrans or one tenth of a denarius).

Coin denominations:

Offered to Wikipedia for Commons use by
Click on this image for a larger and clearer view.

Coin exchange values at the time of minting:

          A few points of curiosity regarding coin values and the cost of living during the 1st century:

  • 1) Two (as) would get you a loaf of bread.
  • 2) A donkey might cost 100 to 125 denarii.
  • 3) A half liter of wine would cost 5 to 10 as depending on its quality.
  • 4) A slave would be from 500 to 1,500 denarii; up to 5,000 denarii for a female slave.

  • 5) Wages were something like this:  A clerk, secretary, or laborer would earn from 10 to 20 denarii a month.  A legionary soldier would earn about 18 to 20 denarii a month, but the soldier was occassionally offered the opportunity to loot & receive large bonuses and rewards.
Remember to insure all of your coins, and keep them in a safety deposit box; not at home.

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